Workplace Conflict Resolution: Tips for Managers

As you ascend in your career, taking on a manager role can be a natural step on the career ladder. In an article for the Credit Union Times, Tahira Hayes writes, “My first taste of what I like to refer to as ‘sort-of-management’ was at a prior job when my producer tasked me with overseeing two production assistants on our team.”

“It was sort-of-management because managing wasn’t in my job description – I had no managerial experience or training and no official manager title. I just emulated the behaviors of my producer and tried to pretend I knew what I was doing. When this approach failed, I turned to Google for some informal management how-to videos.”

“Armed with my new knowledge, I altered my approach and struggled through the experience. My brief time in sort-of-management wasn’t a complete failure; when I left I received a card from one of the production assistants I oversaw commenting on how much she learned from me. This small gesture was my big reward – it was a sign that I had done a few things right.”

“This short-lived experience gave me a whole new appreciation for management. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing people. Being a manager means accommodating a diverse range of personalities while maximizing each employee’s skills and capabilities. It can mean being a mentor, coach, motivator and mediator.”

“When you spend 40-plus hours a week with anyone, conflicts are bound to arise. As a manager, it’s usually your responsibility to diffuse conflicts and create an atmosphere where conflicts are limited.”

“For when conflicts do come up, here are some tips for handling them and how to best manage people to maximize your employees’ productivity.”

1. Listen. “This may sound super obvious, right? It isn’t. Dr. Paul White, a psychologist, author, speaker and consultant who specializes in coaching in the workplace, says that most conflict happens because of a misunderstanding. He said it’s important for managers to stop and listen to make sure people are operating from the same set of facts. Managers should take the time to clarify everyone’s understanding of the facts and expectations for what needs to be done.”

2. Allow employees to solve their own problems. “When employees have conflicts, managers shouldn’t solve the problem for them, rather they should help them think of ways to solve it themselves. This way they can take ownership over the solution. Employees are generally more willing to use the solution they developed than one that was dictated to them. Ideally, you don’t want to change their behavior – you want to change their thinking so that they change their behavior.”

3. Provide immediate feedback. “Dr. White says if you’re trying to help people improve or change their behavior, immediate feedback with specifics is far more effective than waiting until an annual review. ‘Research is showing that the annual review is a waste of time in terms of showing good results because people are trying to pack too much into it and people do best with immediate feedback,’ he said. He added that if someone does something good, he wants to tell them now and not in three months, and this is especially true for younger workers because they particularly desire more immediate feedback.”

4. Separate encouragement from constructive criticism. “Dr. White says when trying to encourage or motivate someone, you should not do it in the same conversation as one in which you provide constructive criticism. People often only remember the negative and discount the positive. He says you can try the sandwich approach by starting off with something positive, then providing constructive criticism and ending with a positive. However, he emphasized, people will likely only remember and take away the negative.”

5. Build strong relationships with the people you manage. “The stronger the relationship, the greater the impact you can have. So, when thinking about growing/developing your employees, it’s important to make as many emotional deposits as you can in order to build a bank of trust. Providing positive feedback and naming things that people are doing well is one way to do that. Then, when you start making withdrawals or providing constructive criticism or feedback that isn’t so complimentary, employees will be open to receiving it because you’ve already built that trust and previously recognized their positive behavior.”

6. Feedback should be growth-producing and specific. “Do this so employees know exactly what to work on, what your expectations are for them and what you want changed. For example, if a loan officer has specific sales goals, instead of just saying, ‘I want you to do more loans,’ make your expectations precise and clear, and provide coaching for how they might achieve the goal.”

7. Take advantage of training opportunities. “Skills don’t magically appear once you get the title of ‘manager.’ Take advantage of any management or leadership training opportunities available through your job. If none exist, get a book, use Google and become self-educated. The more you know, the more you grow!”

8. What if you’re a manager and have a conflict with your boss? “Dr. White says it’s always best to start with you. He says if you start with yourself as the object of learning, it’s going to go over much better than if you directly blame the other person. For example, if you need to address an issue you could say, ‘I want to do the best job possible; it would be helpful to share some things that make it tough for me to do the best job.'”

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